John Drescher

Drescher: McCrory should stop attacking the messenger

McCrory Raleigh

When Pat McCrory was running for governor in 2012, it was as if he had developed his campaign message by reading the front page of The News & Observer.

This newspaper had uncovered questionable practices by prominent state Democrats such as state Agriculture Commissioner Meg Scott Phipps, House Speaker Jim Black and Gov. Mike Easley. All eventually were convicted of felonies.

McCrory, citing the misconduct of Democrats, pledged three years ago to clean up state government. It was a winning message for McCrory, and the media’s revelations of corruption — and subsequent criminal cases — contributed strongly to his victory.

But now that the spotlight is on Gov. McCrory, he doesn’t like it.

The N&O and Charlotte Observer reported last week that McCrory personally intervened on behalf of a friend and political donor who wanted to renew $3 million in prison contracts over the objections of top prison officials. The FBI has interviewed people with knowledge of the discussions that led to the contract extension.

McCrory arranged and attended a key meeting with the donor, Charlotte businessman Graeme Keith, and top state prison officials.

The N&O’s Joseph Neff reported that after McCrory opened the meeting, Keith said he’d “given a lot of money to candidates running for public office and it was now time for him to get something in return,” according to a memo written by Department of Public Safety Deputy Commissioner Joe Prater, who was there.

McCrory said he didn’t hear Keith say that and would have walked out if he had.

Prison officials said they could do the work for the same amount of money without the security risks of a private contractor. But top McCrory officials said Keith would save the state money and ordered that the contract be extended.

After our story was published, McCrory lashed out at The N&O and Charlotte Observer, which are owned by McClatchy and worked on the story together. His office said his administration had used “an ethical process and made a sound, business-like decision.”

Our story was accurate, fair and deeply reported. It was the kind of reporting that leading state Republicans praised when Democrats were the subject and Republicans were in the minority.

(The N&O reported in 2010 about problems in the State Bureau of Investigation, which then was run by state Attorney General Roy Cooper, a Democrat who is running for governor. You can bet next year you’ll see ads from McCrory’s campaign based on our reporting.)

McCrory used poor judgment in attending the meeting. Surely the governor now recognizes that. Whether he intended to or not, his presence sent a message to his subordinates that he wanted Keith to be happy.

During the meeting, the state correction commissioner raised ethical concerns, including the governor’s presence, according to Frank Perry, the former FBI agent who now heads McCrory’s Department of Public Safety, which includes the state prison system.

Perry, in text messages to top McCrory aides, said McCrory was “too close” to the Keith Corp. and that extending the prison contracts would “soil” McCrory. But Perry was overruled.

Instead of owning up to his mistake, McCrory has blamed us for reporting it. The path toward growth and improvement starts with admitting your errors. McCrory should stop blaming the messenger and acknowledge what is obvious to everyone but him.